Country Mapping: Bangladesh
Bangladesh has made remarkable strides in human development since independence with noteworthy increases in life expectancy, primary education enrollment, sanitation, and access to safe water. However, progress has been uneven and certain sectors lag behind; weak governance, inadequate infrastructure, limited economic diversification, and the looming impact of climate change are important and immediate challenges. Religious and development institutions in Bangladesh play distinctive and intersecting roles that affect many dimensions of social, economic, and political development. Since the 1990s, religious actors have competed with secular NGOs for space in Bangladesh’s crowded civil society by forming grassroots charities and civil society organizations. The complex dynamics between faith communities and development actors are important and understudied.
An initial mapping project, conducted jointly by the World Faiths Development Dialogue and the Berkley Center and drawing on research and a regional consultation held in 2011, worked to fill in gaps in knowledge regarding the roles religious actors play in development at this critical juncture in Bangladesh’s history. More recent work has welcomed BRAC University’s Center for Peace and Justice as a key local partner. The collaboration has focused on creating "safe spaces" for dialogue and policy reflection to address concerns about rising communal and political tensions in Bangladesh, many centered on religious identities. Following a pioneering Speakers' Forum series, the current "Bangladesh: Religious Dimensions of Development and Social Cohesion" project brings in a range of faith-inspired actors, who play often unacknowledged but vital roles, alongside secular actors (like BRAC) to define a "common good" and advance coalitions that work in practical ways for social cohesion and peace.